French Cheese: The Process and the Palate

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Cheese
I am an advocate of the growing community of cheese aficionados that believe for you to truly appreciate cheese you must have at minimum a cursory understanding of the cheese making process, it’s steps, and where what you are consuming comes from. The three main types of animals cheese comes from, and the only ones we will be concerned with here, are cows, sheep, and goats. After all cheese is simply concentrated milk with salt added so where do these three species milk vary and why do I have preferences for one over the other. Cows by far produce the most milk, but it is also the thinnest as opposed to Sheep’s milk which is the most concentrated – it has a higher percentage of fat solid, and thus flavor. Of course sheep produce far less of it. Cow’s milk has a fat content of 3.25 percent by weight, whereas sheep’s milk is 7.4 percent milk fat by weight. For some perspective as far as cow’s milk and milk fat: skimmed milk is 0 to 0.5 percent milk fat, low fat milk 1 percent, reduced fat milk 2 percent, whole milk 3.25 percent, half-and-half 10.5 to 18 percent, light whipping cream 30 to 36 percent, and heavy cream 36 to 40 percent milk fat. There is an old adage that goat’s milk is best for drinking, cow’s for making butter, but sheep’s is the best for cheese. Generally speaking it take 6 to 12 units (either pounds or kilograms) of milk to make a unit of cheese.

Raw Milk vs. Pasteurized vs. Ultra-Pasteurized
Raw milk is just that, milk which has not been processed in any manner. It possesses all of its natural bacteria and thus makes more flavorful cheese. Raw milk will separate and curdle if left at room temperature. In the United States it is advised that raw milk should either be pasteurized or used to make cheese aged over 60 days. In many states you are unable to obtain raw milk. It will spoil in about a week.

Pasteurized milk is the best option for most people in the United States that do not have access to raw milk. Pasteurization kills dangerous pathogens, but as a result also to a great extent destroys vitamins, beneficial bacteria, texture and flavor. It will curdle if left at room temperature. Homogenized milk has been processed to break up the fat globules and force them into suspension within the milk. In an effort to prevent the separation of the milk and the cream it changes the Molecular structure which prevents it from producing a culture at room temperature. Most milk available in the United States is both pasteurized and homogenized.

In the United States we also have ultra-pasteurized and ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk. These two groups are unable to produce cheese and should be avoided. Ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to 191 degrees and UHT to 280 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately these processes are used on a lot of organic milks as they are more fragile and susceptible to slower retail sales.

Ripening the Milk
You can pick up most any professional cheese making book, or visit a website, and they will all basically show you the same eight steps in making cheese outlined by professor Kosikowski, the first of these is ripening the milk. This first step involves two interrelated functions acidification and coagulation. Starting with the freshest milk possible, ideally from the most recent milking, a starter culture is added. Traditionally this was done by adding a bit of soured milk from the day before. It is of course still possible to make cheese according to the traditional method, however it is much more difficult and time consuming. It is much more common, nearly universal, that cheese makers use freeze-dried starter cultures containing the beneficial bacteria. These starter cultures offer the cheese maker predictability and consistency.

Coagulation is the process which turns milk into the solid which makes cheese possible. Traditionally animal Rennets are used which are extracted from the stomach of young ruminants. Today there is also a vegetarian option with the rennet coming from various plants, most commonly the cardoon thistle. Rennet induced coagulation takes from half an hour to an hour depending upon the cheese recipe, the temperature, and the kind of coagulant used.

Cutting the Curds
Ince the curds have formed a regular mass they will begin to expel the whey, which is mostly water, as they contract. The greater the surface area of the curds, the more whey they will expel. This is precisely the logic behind cutting the curds. To produce a softer cheese with more moisture content the curds are cut larger, likewise for a harder cheese they are cut small.
The curds should be cut to a consistent size so that they yield a consistent texture and moisture content. Many cheese makers use wires stretched in a metal frame called a harp. The cheese maker will pass the hard through the mass of curd in one direction and then again at the perpendicular.

Cooking and Holding
This third step involves some amount of heating the curds, hence cooking them, and allowing them to rest while the effects of acidification, heating, and cutting runs its course. It is crucial to watch your curds carefully during this step as the smaller curds will get hotter. Due to this is one of several reasons consistent curd size is so important.

Heating the curds is done slowly to prevent them from developing a hard outer skin. Oftentimes they are carefully stirred to aid in whey expulsion and prevent them from sticking. Commercial cheese makers usually employ large stainless steel vats with hollow walls through which hot water circulates to gently warm the curds. The harder the cheese the more it is cooked at higher temperatures and more it is stirred. Sometimes washing the curds is employed. In which case some of the whey is drained and replaced with water. This procedure lowers the acidification of the bath while adding moisture to the curds.

Dipping and Draining
Dipping is when you carefully scoop out the curds to transfer them to a draining vessel or mold. Another way of draining is to open a valve at the bottom edge of the cheese vat. Soft curds will take on the shape of the draining vessel in a mass.

Knitting
The curds in this stage fuse together to form a uniform consistency. Knitting can happen in the vat, mold, cheese press, or draining vessel.

Pressing
Over a few hours or a few days varying degrees of pressure are applied to the curds until the desired moisture content, density, and texture of the cheese is achieved. The softer the cheese the more gradually it is drained with little to no pressure. Sometimes this is referred to as being pressed under their own weight. Conversely harder cheeses will have weights placed on top of them or other pressing measures.

Salting
Salt is the major ingredient added to cheese to control moisture content, bacteria growth as well as for taste. This may be applied in two ways: wet and dry. In dry salting the salt is applied directly to the curd mass, often before pressing. Wet salting, also known as brining, is when the cheese is placed in a saltwater solution for anytime from several hours to several days.

Curing
Curing is a term used for a multitude of special procedures used for desired effects during aging. Some of these are: rubbing, brushing, spraying, wrapping in cloth or leaves, regular turning, etc. This is where the aging process is employed from immediately ready for consumption to several years. In general the harder cheeses are aged longer, for instance true Parmesans are aged 3 to 4 years.

Affinage
Traditional cheese makers relied on special ripeners (affineurs) for their cheese which could be immediately ready, while some might need days or even months to reach their ideal ripeness. This relationship is still in effect in many old world instances for example with Roquefort. Affinage is about nurturing the cheese to bring about its ideal ripeness. There are numerous variables the affineur must control including: setup of the cheese cave, temperature, humidity, duration of aging, and the treatments employed. There is quite some debate over the validity of the craft. Opinions run from not screwing up the cheese to you can’t save a poorly made cheese but you could ruin a good one to you can make a good cheese great.

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Cheese Types
There are multiple ways to consider cheese types by fat content, by water content, by aging period. Americans have a multitude of categories which the American Cheese Society breaks them up into. There are some basic categories however as follows:
Fresh – Unaged, unmolded, unpressed. What is commonly referred to as tub cheese.
Chèvre – Goat’s milk soft-ripened Loire valley style cheeses. An example is Selles-sur-Cher.
Bloomy Rind – Also known as soft ripened. Unpressed cheeses produced from the curds being gently ladled into a mold. An example is Brie or Camembert.
Washed Rind – These are often slimy on the outside, melting on the inside, mild tasting and stinky. A prime example of this type is Epoisses. They can also be semi-hard with strong flavors.
Natural Rind – Any cheese for which the rind is allowed to develop on its own without special treatments. Blues are actually a member of this group.
Uncooked, Pressed – These are semi-hard and hard cheeses that feature pressing. Examples of these are Cantal, and Laguiole.
Cooked, Pressed – These are hard aged alpine style cheeses. An example is Comte or Gruyere.
Blue – A large class of cheeses who a categorized by their blue-green mold. Most of these molds run through the interior (the paste) while a few only bare the mold on the outside. A famous example is Roquefort.

Tasting Cheese
The very first thing you should consider doing is to slow down and really taste it, smell it, touch the cheese. Be certain your palate is clear, your nose is ready. Americans in general shy away from funky smells. With great cheese expect some smells that you are used to shunning. Get a good smell of the cheese. hold the cut slice of cheese right up to your nose. Be sure your hands are clean and unscented, perfume or even scented soap or hand cleanser can effect your appreciation.

Look and examine the cheese closely. Look at the rind and take note of the color, the texture, any imperfections. Some cheeses that look bad taste great, so know what you are looking for. Touch the cheese and give it a poke. Take note of the consistency, how did the knife go through the cheese. Is it soft, meaty, brittle?

Finally taste the cheese, yes this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Always start with a thin slice, how does it stimulate your tongue and get your juices flowing, take note of the evolution of flavors and finally the finish. Shutting your eyes when first tasting a new cheese really does shut out other distractions, so you can become one with the cheese. Take note of the flavor – sweet, salty, bitter, sour, but also the texture or mouthfeel. Is it buttery and smooth or is it dry and crumbling or gooey and runny?

When serving cheese there are some general guidelines you should follow, especially if it is for your cliché wine and cheese tasting party:
• Cheese should always be cut fresh – the air begins the oxidation process be which the cheese loses its aromas, taste and not to mention begins drying it out. The longer you wait the more you lose.
• Trim all leftovers carefully.
• Always serve cheese at room temperature – the cold diminishes the cheeses flavor and aroma, this is the most common mistake people make. Remove cheese from the refrigerator at least one hour prior to tasting.
• If possible use a separate knife for each cheese, if not possible at least use a different knife for each type of cheese we discussed earlier. If this is not possible clean the knife well between cheeses so as not to mingle flavors.
• Small wedges with some of the rind is the objective when slicing cheese. This isn’t always possible with crumbly blues or with gooey cheeses.

The cheese plate or the progression needs to be considered. The traditional classic progression is from simpler to complex, young to older, light to heavy, mild to strong. I always recommend following this progression. What should I serve with my cheese? Keep it simple. The oldest and best accompaniment is bread. Bread is a useful palate cleanser between cheese while also being the ideal complement to fine cheeses. Some classic bread options include:
• Classic baguette
• Olive breads
• Tuscan rounds
• Focaccia, plain or with herbs
• Flatbreads or crackers that are fairly neutral in flavor.
Robust cheeses such as cheddar go with the more strongly flavored bread. Mild bread like the baguette are ideal for the subtler cheeses. Strong cheeses such as the blues can support a sweet but bread.

Fruit and vegetables also make great accompaniments. The sweet juiciness of many fruits make a fine contrast to the saltiness of your cheese. Consider using fresh figs, apples, grapes, as well as dried apricots, preserves and chutneys for starters. Select vegetables as well provide the contrast when putting together a cheese tasting. For a luncheon try fresh vegetables such as carrots, radishes, zucchini, bell peppers, etc. You can also consider pickled vegetables to go along with your cheese and bread. Make certain though not to overwhelm the lighter more mild cheeses.

With the rise in charcuterie in America there are more and more meats available to add to your cheese tasting. When in France stop in the neighborhood charcuterie and pick out some sauccion. Make certain again you don’t overwhelm the lighter cheeses. When home consider prosciutto, sopressata, capitols, or salami. For a touch more you can consider Spanish jamon serrano or chorizo, German speck, or Virginia country ham.

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Thomas Keller – Roasted Chicken

Thomas Keller is considered by many, and rightfully so, the preeminent American Chef. He has won multiple James Beard Foundation awards and is annual winner in the Top 50 Restaurants in the World.  His restaurant include: The French Laundry, Bouchon, Ad Hoc, and Per Se.  He has been awarded three stars (the highest rating) by the Michelin Guide for both his New York restaurant Per Se and his Napa valley restaurant The French Laundry.  With these two awards he holds the distinction of being the only American chef to be awarded three stars by Michelin for two restaurants at the same time.

His passion for food is obvious and can be seen in his roasting of a simple chicken:

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)

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Simone-Ernestine-Lucie-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was a French existentialist philosopher, intellectual, feminist and social theorist. She did not consider herself a philosopher, however her contributions to existential feminist thought firmly enshrines her legacy as one. In her lifetime she wrote novels, essays, biographies, a multi-volume autobiography, including articles/essays on philosophy, politics, and social issues. She is best remembered for her treatise “The Second Sex,” a highly detailed analysis of women’s oppression and as it relates and influences contemporary feminism. She is also known for her two metaphysical novels “She Came to Stay” and “The Mandarins,” but by far best known or renown for “The Second Sex.”

Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris and studied mathematics and philosophy at the Institut Catholique and literature/languages at the Institut Sainte-Marie. She then went on to study philosophy at the Sorbonne. Afterwards while completing her practice teaching requirements she first met Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Claude Lévi-Strauss. While studying for her agrégation in philosophy (a highly competitive postgraduate civil service examination which serves as a national ranking of students for some position in the public education system) she met fellow students Jean-Paul Sartre, Paul Nizan, and René Maheu. The jury narrowly awarded Sartre first place over Beauvoir. She was twenty-one at the time and the youngest ever to pass the exam.

In June 1949 “The Second Sex” was published in France. She argues that men made women the “Other” in society by putting a false and constructed mystery around them. Therefore men used this as their excuse not to understand women, their problems and most importantly not to help them. She went on to argue that men stereotyped women and used it to organize society into a patriarchy. As an existentialist she believed, “l’existence précède l’essence” (existence precedes essence), there by one is not born a woman, but becomes one. It is the social construction of woman that she identifies as fundamental to woman oppression. She went on to argue that even Mary Wollstonecraft considered men to be the ideal to which women should aspire and that this belief limited women’s success by maintaining that perception. She vigorously argued that for feminism to move forward this assumption must be set aside. Thus Beauvoir aseerted that women are as capable of choice as man, and therefore can ellect to elevate themselves and move beyond the position which they have been resigned and reach a position in which they take responsibility for oneself and the world, where one can choose one’s freedom.

A long quote and a few short quotes :

“Art, literature, and philosophy are attempts to found the world anew on a human freedom: that of the creator; to foster such an aim, one must first unequivocally posit oneself as a freedom. The restrictions that education and custom impose on a woman limit her grasp of the universe…Indeed, for one to become a creator, it is not enough to be cultivated, that is, to make going to shows and meeting people part of one’s life; culture must be apprehended through the free movement of a transcendence; the spirit with all its riches must project itself in an empty sky that is its to fill; but if a thousand fine bonds tie it to the earth, its surge is broken. The girl today can certainly go out alone, stroll in the Tuileries; but I have already said how hostile the street is: eyes everywhere, hands waiting: if she wanders absentmindedly, her thoughts elsewhere, if she lights a cigarette in a cafe, if she goes to the cinema alone, an unpleasant incident can quickly occur; she must inspire respect by the way she dresses and behaves: this concern rivets her to the ground and self. “Her wings are clipped.” At eighteen, T.E. Lawrence went on a grand tour through France by bicycle; a young girl would never be permitted to take on such an adventure…Yet such experiences have an inestimable impact: this is how an individual in the headiness of freedom and discovery learns to look at the entire world as his fief…[The girl] may feel alone within the world: she never stands up in front of it, unique and sovereign.”

“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, and compassion”

“A man attaches himself to woman — not to enjoy her, but to enjoy himself.”

“Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.”

“Society, being codified by man, decrees that woman is inferior; she can do away with this inferiority only by destroying the male’s superiority.”

“The word love has by no means the same sense for both sexes, and this is one cause of the serious misunderstandings that divide them.”

“Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.”

“One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius; and the feminine situation has up to the present rendered this becoming practically impossible.”

Offal : Butchering A Beef Heart – Chris Cosentino

What is Offal?

• Edible internal organs: the edible, mainly internal organs of an animal, e.g. the heart, liver, brains, and tongue, sometimes regarded as unpalatable.
• Literally mean “off fall,” or the pieces which fall from a carcass when butchered.
• Meat which is used as food which is not skeletal muscle.
• Aka. Organ meats and variety meats.
• Ex. Heart, liver, kidneys, brains, tongue, tails, feet, etc.

Beef Heart was described by Michael Ruhlman,

“Heart is an excellent muscle to eat: it’s lean and flavorful (meaty but not organy—it’s a hard working muscle, not squishy spleen), it’s got a good bite, and it’s inexpensive (I bought the three-pound grass-fed beef heart for six bucks last Saturday). And one more thing: it puts to use a cut that is often thrown away; it’s important that we do our best to make use of all parts of the animals we kill for our food.”

This video shows Chris Cosentino cleaning a beef heart.

Odd Bits: How To Cook The Rest of the Animal

Originally published in 2013 on http://www.markberepeterson.com

Chef Jennifer McLagan is an amazing cookbook author.  She is the author of Bones : Recipes, History and Lore, Fat : An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, and Odd Bits : How to Cook the Rest of the Animal.  She now has a new TV show of the same name, Odd Bits.  Below is a preview and clip from the show.  I am so looking forward to seeing the show.  I love the concept and a real cooking show.

When Odd Bits came out in 2012 she did a series of interviews including the one below.  It is a treat to have not only chefs and authors, but everyday eaters and cooks bridging the gap to eatting offal.  Starting with something not too foreign to your palate like lamb shank, then moving on to beef cheek, then to maybe sweetbreads of calf’s liver and before you know it trying brain ravioli, etc…

A Few Bites At Jaleo – Washington DC

Originally published in 2013 on http://www.markberepeterson.com

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Whenever I am in the Washington DC area I like to pay a “visit” to one of my favorite Chefs, Jose Andres.  His empire of DC restaurants is impressive and exquisite.  He won the James Beard award in 2004.  He is one of my all-time favorite celebrity chefs.  I own two of his cookbooks, Tapas : A Taste Of Spain In America, and Made In Spain.  I have watched his TV series Made In Spain and numerous interviews as well as guest appearances on such shows as Anthony Bourdain : No Reservations.  On this occasion I spent the morning at one of the many museums in DC and then took a walk over to the award winning Jaleo.

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I was excited to go not just for the food but they had gone through an elaborate remodel since my last visit.  Would it meet my expectations and be as fun an environment as I anticipated?  Yes, the remodel is gorgeous.  The remodel is bright and fun.  The virtual palate of colors over the bar is impressive and the bathroom is a must see.  For a confirmed germ-a-phobe that is a hard sentence to write, but nevertheless it is the truth.  A cacophony of faces gazes up at you from the floor of the bathroom.  It is simply fun.

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In the past I’ve been to Jaleo in the evening and with friends.  It has always been fun to order a medley of small dishes and share them.  Today I am dining alone and at lunch.  To my surprise they have an express lunch which allows you to choose from a select few options three courses for $25 – perfect.  My first course is something simple, Pan con tomate y manchego (toasted slices of rustic bread brushed with fresh tomatoes and manchego cheese).  It is simple and delicious and a nice start to my meal.

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On this day I am in the mood for something a bit spicy and potatoes.  So naturally my second course was Patatas Bravas (fried fingerling potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and aioli).  It was just right for the mood I was in.  The potatoes were fried crisp and the tomato sauce had just the right amount of bite to it.  At this time a girl in hre thirties was seated next to me with her parents.  They were fun to watch as her parents obviously didn’t understand the restaurant concept at the beginning, but by the end were ordering more tapas dishes without their daughter’s help.  They obviously were very much enjoying their meal.

My third and final course was Tortilla de Patatas (traditional Spanish omelette). I told you I was in the mood for potatoes.  It was a delightful end to a very traditional classic tapas meal.  In the past I had certainly had more elegant and elaborate tapas meals at Jaleo, but today this was just right after my morning at the museum.  Would I return to Jaleo?  Absolutely next time I am in DC.  I still haven’t tried the paella, which is on my culinary to do list.

Bistro Provence – Bethesda, Maryland

Originally published in 2013 on http://www.markberepeterson.com

 

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Executive Chef Yannick Cam opened Bistro Provence, a decidedly casual restaurant, in the spring of 2010. Arriving in America in 1973 Cam has built his strong reputation as one of the top French chefs in the Washington DC area. His long list of restaurants begins with his four years as the head of the Four Seasons Restaurant, to Le Coup de Fusil, Le Pavillion, Yannick’s, and Le Paradou before Bistro Provence. His awards as a James Beard award finalist are staggering. I knew his pedigree before I stepped into his restaurant and was anticipating quite honestly to be blown away. If it was anything but near perfection I was bound to be disappointed. Simply I expected a lot from this meal, after all it was exactly the type of restaurant I love casual atmosphere and incredible food.

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So did Cam and Bistro Provence meet my lofty expectations? Walking up to the restaurant my initial reaction can best be described as disappointed. If there was one thing I was asked to make it a better evening it would be to clean up the front of the restaurant. It not only wasn’t inviting, but I seriously wondered if there were two Bistro Provence in Bethesda. This simply couldn’t be the place. While I appreciated the embarrassment of plants outside, they could have some rhyme or reason to them and not the jungle of foliage that you must explore. We attempted to first enter the side service entrance as the entrance is not clearly marked. Entering the restaurant that is where my disappointment ended. I loved the décor, the casual elegant atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t paper placemats and plastic knives and forks. As a matter of fact it was one of the few restaurants you’ll enter these days with true linen tablecloths. My dining partner and I were allowed to choose a table; we were the first ones there that evening, not always a good sign but it was early.

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We ordered a bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water, as many of you know I do not drink alcohol or wine due to my liver transplant. I used to be such a wine snob, but ah that was in another lifetime now. A quick glance at the menu and I knew the choices would not be easy or at least they shouldn’t be. To be honest though I am a one-hundred percent confirmed absolute escargots fanatic, addict, and snob, pick your adjective. My eyes eagerly scanned the menu finding my quarry. There it was, “Fricassée D‘Escargots aux Pleurotes, Purée D’Aubergines, Beurre a L’Ail” (Escargots, Eggplant Puree, Pleurotes, Garlic Butter). Pleurotes, it had been thirteen years since I lived in Paris and my French was rusty to say the least. Honestly I didn’t have a clue to what it meant. I knew it was a fricassée so my guess was a kind of mushroom, Oyster mushroom by the way was the answer. They were pure perfection. Honestly the perfect amount for an appetizer, but if there had been twice as much I would have greedily devoured them.

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My aunt, my dining partner, ordered “Poupetons de Poisson Jus de Bouillabaisse,” (Fishcake, Bouillabaisse Jus). As much as I am an escargots devotee, my aunt sees the word bouillabaisse and the rest of the menu might as well be blank. She enjoyed every last bite and we were both more than pleased with our first course. A little about my aunt, she is a vegan with a seafood exception. Yes, that is a mighty big exception but she mostly keeps a vegan diet except on special occasions. To say I am not used to a vegan diet is a gross understatement. I have to admit that keeping a vegan diet probably made this meal even more luscious for me. I have great respect and admiration for vegans for their dedication to depriving themselves of so many delicious bites. The thought of merely giving up bacon makes me shiver, much less all meat. I was tempted to order a tall glass of milk, because that seemed so elegant to me at the moment after all the soy I had been drinking. One thing I learned on this trip, that I could have guessed before, there was absolutely zero chance I would ever become vegetarian or vegan. At least not by choice. I simply do not have the constitution to deprive myself of so many things which I love.

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My main course option was simply elegant, delicious and absolutely perfect for the night and most definitely not vegan. “Poitrine de Canard Roti, Gateau de Patate Douce, Boudin de Volaille, Choux de Bruxelles,” (Roasted Duck Breasts, Sweet Potato Cake, Boudin, Brussel Sprouts). Roasted duck breast sounded delicious, I love properly cooked brussel sprouts, the sweet potato cake was enticing, but oh Boudin de Volaille. Duck and Foie Gras sausage was all I needed to know. I was sold. As I waited for the meal to arrive I realized I could easily be disappointed as this bite was so set up in my mind. The verdict… it was absolute perfection. It was easily the best thing I’ve eaten this past year. The duck breast was exquisitely cooked, the perfect counterpoint to the sausage. The roasted brussel sprouts were delicious. The sweet potato cake was light and elegant. The sausage though blew away all of my lofty expectations. I knew this restaurant would definitely go onto my list of restaurants to return to simply due to that one bite of perfection, much less for the rest of the elegant meal.

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There was really no doubt what my aunt would select, “Bouillabaisse de Coquilles St. Jacques Poelees, Grosses Crevettes, Bar Roti,” (Bouillabaisse of Sea Scallops, Shrimp Sautéed and Bass). She seemed to enjoy every bite. The desserts were delicious, but couldn’t match the elegance of the first two courses. Unless you are an absolute dessert devotee then I would say focus on the first two courses and if you have room left for dessert then great. I’m honestly not the dessert fan that I once was, so the chances of a sweet course blowing away a savory one were very slim. The desserts were very good and my aunt seemed to adore hers’.

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Would I return? Without a doubt next time I am in the area Bistro Provence will be on my short list of restaurants for an elegant evening. There are so many mysteries left on the menu waiting to be discovered. I might even discover one of them if I can pull myself away from the escargots and boudin. Thank you Chef Yannick Cam for exceeding my lofty expectations.

Marie de France: A Primer

Originally published on http://www.markberepeterson.com

 

Marie de France (12th Century)

Very little is actually known of Marie de France as both her given name and where she lived is only known through her manuscripts. She was a medieval poet who probably was born in France and lived in England in the late 12th century. She lived and wrote at an unknown or undisclosed court, but was at least known of in the royal court of King Henry II of England. Some have suggested that she was perhaps a half-sister of Henry II.

She wrote a form of Anglo-Norman French and was proficient in Latin and English as well. She translated “Aesop’s Fables” into Anglo-Norman French from Middle English, and the “Legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick” from Latin. She is best known as the writer of “The Lais Of Marie de France” which are still quite widely read and were a great influence on the romance genre (heroic literature) such as Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”

“The Lais of Marie de France” are a series of twelve short (a few hundred lines each) Breton Lais. They are rhymed stanzas of 6-16 lines with 4-8 syllables per line which focus on glorifying the concept of courtly love through the adventure of the main character. The series of lais presents a contrast of the positive and negative actions that can result from love through magical situations, themes and imagery. Romantic themes include lovers in a hostile world, oppressive marriages and dichotomy social conventions, conflicts between love, chivalry and marriage, freedom of desire, love as an escape, and the psychological issues of love manifested in treachery and selfishness. They are also considered to have an ambiguous moral message especially for the time.

“Love is an invisible wound within the body, and, since it has its source in nature, it is a long-lasting ill.”

“Anyone who intends to present a new story must approach the problem in a new way and speak so persuasively that the tale brings pleasure to people.”

“It would be less dangerous for a man to court every lady in an entire land than for a lady to remove a single besotted lover from her skirts, for he will immediately attempt to strike back.”

~ Marie de France

Sacré Coeur Basilica

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The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica and often simply Sacré-Cœur, is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Paris, France. A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1871 Franco-Prussian War and the socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighborhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ.